Year in Review: Marquel Lee
The Oakland Raiders selected Marquel Lee in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Marquel Lee joined an inexperienced linebacking corps in Oakland led by Cory James; a second year player selected in the 6th round just one year prior.
Fans immediately hoped Lee could become an impact player despite his late selection in the draft. Now that the 2017 season is over, we can look back and see just how large of an impact Marquel Lee had on the Raiders’ defense.
In 2017 Lee was used mostly on early downs as a rotational player. In weeks 3-5 Lee saw his largest opportunity to showcase his ability. During that time he played at least 1/3 of all defensive snaps before being injured late in week 5.
After his injury and the acquisition of Navarro Bowman, Lee became part of al linebacker committee sharing time with Bowman, James and Morrow. Lee finished the season with 25 combined tackles in his rookie year. Stats alone don’t tell what kind of player Lee is, however. The only way to truly understand the kind of player Marquel Lee can be is to turn on the tape.
How Did Marquel Lee Perform?
Defending the Run:
Marquel Lee’s role in the NFL will be as a run defender. Built like an inside linebacker, the Raiders used him in a run defending role throughout the year. He is strong and doesn’t get pushed back by offensive linemen. Lee is tough against the run, yet fails to press his gaps as aggressively as he is capable of doing all the time. His inconsistency in this area led to less tackles behind the line of scrimmage and often yielded gains on each carry.
Marquel showcased good gap integrity. At times he was very quick reading his keys such as pulling guards, double teams, etc. Teams were able to move him out of position by using movement along the offensive line. By pulling lineman, opponents were able to use his keys against him and move him away from the run.
Marquel Lee is built like a true interior linebacker. Lee’s greatest attribute is his strength, allowing him to take on contact in the NFL without being moved around by linemen. He sets his base perfectly for contact, and doesn’t hesitate to take on blockers.
Right before contact, the defensive player should be setting the foot on the same side as the player he is making contact with. That foot should be aiming right down the center of the opposing player, with his weight over the lead foot. It is also important that the player is low with his other foot following behind, but also set on the ground. Lee seems to take on blocks naturally at the NFL level, almost always exhibiting good form. He can play aggressive and welcomes collisions.
The next step from taking on contact is to get off of contact. Although there are times when blockers can lock onto Lee, there are many more examples of him shedding blockers. Marquel understands how to use leverage in order to squeeze gaps. Lee also uses his hands to control blockers, allowing him to read the play and create separation from the blocker with his arms.
#55 is a fine tackler who wraps up when attacking the ball carrier. Marquel plays well in the box and is able to make plays on the ball carrier even when taking on an opposing blocker. He did not miss many tackles, but he is clearly more effective in tight spaces. However, Lee is not a sure-tackler when in open space, especially against an athletic runner.
The biggest challenge for rookie players is adjusting to the speed of the NFL. With Lee, it doesn’t appear that the game is too far over his head. He is quick at reacting to his Keys, however he commits too hard to his Keys at times which can work against him. Marquel also has a tendency to pause as he attempts to dissect what is happening in front of him. Teams were able to use play action and pulling blockers to freeze Lee up and take advantage.
Marquel was rarely tested in coverage. Due mostly to the fact that the Raiders did their best to keep him off the field on passing plays. When he was taking snaps on passing plays, he was almost exclusively in zone coverage. Play action did get him out of position sometimes, and there are moments where he struggled to get deep enough in coverage. Lee is at his worst when he is in space.
Marquel showed great potential against the run in his rookie season. He doesn’t make as many tackles for a loss as he should, but he is a good tackler. The young Oakland defender is a strong player and is able to take on contact naturally.
He has good technique and can break free of blocks to make a play. Lee made his share of rookie mistakes which were mostly mental. Unfortunately he struggles in open space and is not an extremely athletic linebacker. In his first year he established himself as a rotational linebacker who excels on early downs against the run. Marquel still has a lot to prove if he is to become an every down player.
Written by: Chase Bugas
Follow Chase on Twitter: @RaidersUnsung